Discussions over Tea (Of course, cutting maar ke)

Monday, October 06, 2003

BOOKS : The Feast of the Goat - A sneak review



Having never read Mario Vargas Llosa, and having always been intrigued by his writing, I picked up "The Feast of the Goat", because it was a "historical" novel in terms of the depth of coverage and it's linkage to reality.

A long time ago, I had read about Trujillo - The Goat - who was the dictator of the Dominican Republic from 1930-1961. What Mario Vargas Llosa did, was weave a magical narrative of Trujillo's tyrannical regime from the Goat's own perspective, woven in it's course, with the story-lines of a woman, Urania Cabral, who returns from New York to her father, who was one of Trujillo's lieutenants and finally, the perspectives of seven men who waiting one morning in 1961 in their cars, waiting to assassinate Trujillo.

A beautifully written book, you sense the person behind Trujillo's acts of "tyranny" - a person who learnt all he learnt in the US Marines, the emphasis he laid of discipline in everyday lives, the hatred he had of his kin for betraying the country and not showing the willingness to carry forward his legacy, the perverse nature of his pleasures, his helplessness at the age of 70 which overcame his personal will for order and the cruel way in which he manipulated people around him, sometimes with the steely eye, other times with the soft word - as you wind your way through the book, waiting for his inevitable death.

Urania Cabral returns, to her father and to the country she deserted thirty-five years ago to work in NY, and carries on a monologue with her father who was a fanatical follower of Trujillo until he was brought down by the man himself. She asks all those questions which have plagued her for all those years, taunts her father for all those inadequacies he exhibited while under Trujillo's thumb, and simply waits for the answers.

And finally, the perspective of seven men, part of a large conspiracy to rid the republic of the dictator, most of whom were at one time, Trujillo's followers, but have suffered some personal harm - a brother lost, a love lost, a friend killed, an insult administered - which has united them together, 31 years into the rule of the Goat. As they wait, one morning, their lives flash past us, their history shouts out to the reader the injustices that have been committed against them, and we waiting for the blue Chevrolet carrying Trujillo to come along.

I'm still not finished with the book, but the interesting thing about it is the fact that people forgot, in the years that followed his assassination, the fear, the cruelties and the mass disappearances which plagued his era, but instead remembered the fact that people weren't as poor and that there were jobs around for all during the Trujillista (the Trujillo era). More than 40 years hence, we see the same happening in Iraq.
Perhaps, when I finish the book, I'll put up a more complete, but political, review.

Here's the crux : Mario Vargas Llosa, has the style for capturing history. To mix fiction with reality isn't an easy task, yet he achieves it with such ease, that you're left googling for real characters called Urania Cabral. To describe a dictatorship with such insights requires a great deal of wisdom and class, both of which Llosa exhibits well. It also helps answers some questions which plague mankind - When does a leader become a dictator? When does the common man say "Enough!"? What does the man who ran away from it all feel?.

The real crux : A good read, and this comes from a person who doesn't read political novels.

End of Post

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